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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

UNCO, adj., adv., n. Also unko, un(c)ka, unca, uncae, uncih, uncoo; onco (Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 31); I.Sc. forms unkin, -an, -en, unc(k)an, -on, oncan, ounkin (I.Sc. 1866 Edm. Gl.), unkon(n), onkonn (Jak.); and full forms unkouth, oncouth, -kouth (Sc. 1887 Jam.). [′ʌŋkə]

I. adj. 1. (1) Of people, animals, things, places: unknown, unfamiliar, strange (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1908 Jak. (1928); Abd. 1913; Uls. 1953 Traynor; I.Sc. (uncan), ne. and m.Sc. 1973). Obs. in Eng. exc. n. dial.; so much altered as to be scarcely recognizable (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Abd. 1973), also unco-like.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 223:
I was like a Cow in an uncouth Loan.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 25:
Nae meiths she kent, ilk hillock head was new, An' a' thing unko that was in her view.
Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 116:
On scenes sae wild their winsome looks do len, They seem sae unco to their lawlan's ken.
Sc. 1827 Riddles Wisely Expounded in Child Ballads No. 1. C.vii.:
She was to lye with this unco knicht.
Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Proverbs 6:
It's no safe wading in unco waters.
Ayr. 1879 J. White Jottings 188:
He cares na for yer fremmit loons, A mongrel gang, frae unco toons.
Per. 1884 Harp Per. (Ford 1893) 325:
Until the door was opened wide, An' unco faces seen.
Edb. 1928 A. D. Mackie In Two Tongues 58:
I winnae win tae peace o' mind but-if I see some uncae toon aneath the sky.
Sh. 1949 J. Gray Lowrie 70:
Een o' da men at wis lost a lok o' sheep cam apo twa unkin dugs i' da hill wi' bluid aboot dir shocks.
Ork. 1952 R. T. Johnston Stenwick Days (1984) 24:
In the back seat was an unkan individual, but though Godfrey had never set eyes on him before, he knew instantly who is was.
Abd. 1959 Huntly Express (6 Feb.):
The cottar hooses at the Haddoch are gyan tae be biggit by an unco firm.
 Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 74:
The trees hae tongues,
birds gree, e'en the spuggies harmonise. We stand
dumfoonert afore oor ain unco creation,
the new onset o the Scottish nation.
Ork. 1995 Orcadian 14 Sep 13:
While walking out in a mist, I was enclosed in an alien island: I might have been in any strange land, with uncan animals in the field, vastly enlarged by the vapour obscuring them.

Combs. and phr.: (i) to be unco, to feel oneself a stranger (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (ii) unco body, a stranger, an outsider, a newcomer (Ayr. 1811 W. Aiton Agric. Ayr. 693); (iii) unco folk, used as coll. pl. of (ii), strangers (I.Sc. (uncan), ne., em.Sc.(a), sm.Sc. 1973); (iv) unco men, = (ii) (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)); ¶(v) unco stuil, the stool of Repentance.(ii) Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xxxix.:
Creepin' to your ain house as if ye had been an unco body?
Abd. 1880 W. Robbie Yonderton xii.:
Eavesdropping when there was any “unco body” in the ben end of the house with her master.
Ags. 1892 A. Reid Howetoon 125:
It disna become an unco body like me to say onything contrair till 'im.
Ayr. 1897 H. Ochiltree Out of Shroud x.:
Paidlin' up and doon here like some unco body.
(iii) Ags. 1776 C. Keith Farmer's Ha' xvii.:
Unco' fouk he canno' brook Within the house.
Lnk. 1806 J. Black Falls of Clyde 129:
Wi' unco folk I weary yet.
Sc. 1820 A. Sutherland St Kathleen III. v.:
He [a dog] disna like unco fouk.
Ork. 1920:
The bairn's feared for unkin folk.
(iv) Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 65:
Gin ye be wysse, beware of unko men.
(v) Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 58:
They stuid him on the “unco stool,” and laid his failings bare.

(2) Specif. of countries or lands: foreign (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1973).Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. liii.:
I kept it in an unco land.
Ags. 1822 A. Balfour Farmers' Three Daughters III. x.:
She'll see unco lands, an' ha'e something to crack about, by the time she comes hame.
Sh. 1836 Gentleman's Mag. II. 593:
Dere tellan mee itt duz giaan awa till a unkan ples whaar dere nethin bitt neggirs.
Abd. 1920 C. Murray Country Places 29:
In mony an unco airt I've been, An' mony a gallant city seen.
Sc. 1925 H. McDiarmid Sangschaw 33:
I' mony an unco warl' the nicht The fatefu' bairnies cry.

2. Unusual, out of the ordinary; odd, strange, peculiar, weird, uncanny (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; I., n. and m.Sc. 1973). Compar. uncoer, (I.Sc.) uncaner, superl. uncoest, -ist, (I.Sc.) uncanest. Combs. unco-like, -leukin, id., having a strange appearance, odd-looking, with a wild strange look, looking out of sorts or woe-begone (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 203; Uls. 1953 Traynor; ne.Sc., Ags., Fif., Ayr. 1973).Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iii. ii.:
They're here that ken, and here that disna ken, The wimpled Meaning of your unco Tale.
Sc. 1747 Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) I. 155:
He says you are the uncoest cheel he ever met wi'.
Ayr. 1791 Burns Tam o' Shanter 114:
Wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Sc. 1805 Scots Mag. (Sept.) 667:
Oh, it's an unco like town, Kinross! It's not like a town.
Sc. 1824 Scott St. Ronan's W. vii.:
Sir Bingo is an unco name for a man o' quality.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch x.:
It was an unco thought, and garred all my flesh creep.
Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 68:
Aye the aulder the uncoer lookin' she was.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona iii.:
It's an unco thing to see too far in front.
Kcb. 1895 Crockett Bog-Myrtle 176:
She gied an unco-like cry.
Bnff. 1954 Banffshire Jnl. (19 Jan.):
Een o' the unco-ist craitters I hae seen for mony a lang day.
Abd. 1956 Huntly Express (3 Feb.):
He's aff o's mait an' ower quate an' unco like for a loon o's age.
Abd. 1964 Buchan Observer (28 April) 5:
Unca things ye'll affen meet Fin the meen gangs oot o' sicht.
m.Sc. 1986 Colin Mackay The Song of the Forest 17:
No two-legged creature could have a greater sense of the canny than this man of the woods. Above a sharp ridge, where the trees cleared the bright morning sky, Wat glimpsed two black shapes, corbies that soared and circled and cawed loudly. "An unco noise, yon," he thought, and thinking it, suddenly stilled into complete immobility. Aye an unco thing, yon.
m.Sc. 1991 William Neill in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 51:
I'm tellt the auncient Celts focht in bare scud...
Man, yon's a mark o unco determination.
Ye've shairly got tae ken whit ye're fechting fur
tae tak the haill Roman Empire on in yer buff.
Ork. 1995 Orcadian 20 Apr 15:
Oscar, the uncan cat who arrived here unbidden and took up his abode, is snoring under the window sitting on the tumble-dryer. Three weeks ago he suddenly began coughing with a real kirkyard cough.

Derivs. (1) uncolly, odd, strange; (2) uncolins, in a strange odd manner (Fif. 1825 Jam.). See -Lins, suff., 2.; (3) unconess, strangeness, peculiarity, eccentricity (Sh. 1973, uncanness).(1) Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 50:
I aye thocht he cam frae the moon, he was sae uncolly lookin'.
(3) s.Sc. 1802 Prophecy in 19th Cent. 17:
The unconess o' the tune and variations.
e.Lth. 1903 J. Lumsden Toorle 109:
Wi' a' his funny quirks and unconess.

3. Used as an intensive epithet: remarkable, extraordinary, notable, great, large, “awful”, etc., deriving specific meaning from the context (Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–6 Wilson; ne.Sc., Ags., wm.Sc. 1973), also unco-like.Sc. 1724 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 24:
I had amaist forgot My mistress and my sang to boot, And that's an unco' faut I wat.
Ayr. 1786 Burns A Dream xi.:
He was an unco shaver For mony a day.
Sc. 1793 “Tam Thrum” Look before ye Loup 9:
Ye mak' an unco sang about your taxes.
Dmf. 1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun 92:
Arriving in an unco flutter.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality iv.:
Clergy and captains can gie an unco deal o' fash in thae times, where they take an ill-will.
Rnf. 1844 Justiciary Reports (1844–5) 31:
Jock, this is an unco thing.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xix.:
Workin' himsel' up into an unco pavee o' a passion.
Edb. 1866 J. Smith Merry Bridal 33:
My faither saw my unco plicht.
Dmf. 1874 R. Reid Moorland Rhymes 81:
Wi' an uncolike deafenin' din.
em.Sc. 1913 J. Black Gloamin' Glints 154:
Ye're an unco birkie for fun, laddie.
Sc. 1926 H. McDiarmid Drunk Man 11:
I maun ha'e got an unco bellyfu' To jaw like this.
ne.Sc. 1929 M. W. Simpson Day's End 27:
Nae wi' an unco steer or clash o' warl's.
m.Sc. 1982 Douglas MacLagan in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 159:
The Duke was at an unco loss
To manage in a hurry,

Deriv. uncolie, -(i)ly, uncaly, also uncolies (see -Lies, -S, suff.), very much, to a great or remarkable degree (Abd. 1825 Jam.). Now liter.Dmf. 1820 Blackwood's Mag. (Sept.) 660:
The priest wha scribed the epitaph wrote uncoly at random when he called Adam a saunt.
Rnf. 1828 Paisley Mag. 291:
Ye maun ken that he's uncolies against dissension and especially in the kirk.
Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 92:
She was uncoily' dicktit till drinkin'.
Sc. 1885 Stevenson Letters to Baxter (1956) 157:
Tak off what I'll like be owin' you, and send the lave fleein' back to Bournemouth, for I'm needin' 't uncoly.
Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 8, 292:
He wus a gran preacher, an uncoly thocht o'. . . . He tell't them yt he wus uncaly obleeg't tae them a'.
Sc. 1913 H. P. Cameron Imit. Christ. II. ix.:
The heich priest o' God, wham he uncolies loed.
Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood ix.:
Our auld Sion will get uncoly mishandled.

4. Rude, uncouth, unseemly. Rare or obs. in Eng. Also unco-like.Sc. 1720 Broadside:
Fu' Sawcy, uncoo, and a terrible Scawld.
Ags. 1822 A. Balfour Farmers' Three Daughters II. iv.:
The filthy cracks an' uncolike unseemly behaviour of Punch an' his wife.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xviii.:
It was an unco-like business for an elder, not only to gang till a play, but to gang there in a state of liquor.

5. Reserved in manner, shy, bashful (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Lnk. 1958; Sh. 1973, uncan).Dmf. 1917:
That bairn's no a bit unca.

II. adv. 1. Very, exceedingly, extremely, to a marked degree (s.Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai; Uls. 1953 Traynor). Gen.Sc., somewhat obsol. Also in n.Eng. dial. Phr. the unco guid, the rigidly righteous, priggish, sanctimoniously austere persons, in allusion to Burns's Address to the Unco Guid. Also attrib. See Guid, III. 1.Sc. 1706 Speech in Season against the Union 8:
You are uncouth careful for a Succession to the Throne of Scotland.
Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 145:
Last Morning I was unco airly out.
Ayr. 1790 Burns Tam o' Shanter 6–7:
While we sit bowsing at the nappy, An' getting fou and unco happy.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxiv.:
At unco muckle easier profit than ye're thinking on.
Slk. 1820 Hogg Tales (1874) 187:
After we had gotten the breakfast, I sees her unco dinkly dressed.
Sc. 1827 Hind Etin in Child Ballads No. 41 B.v.:
To wrang ye, Hynde Etin, I wad be unco laith.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 97:
Her neck wus lang an' unco' sma'.
Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped iii.:
I'm unco feared of fires.
Sh. 1918 J. Nicolson Hentilagets (1933) 23:
I canna help bit tinkin 'at the burn Is unkin laek wir life doon here below.
Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 7:
Hei's uncih lang i comin, I unk!
Abd. 1940 Abd. Univ. Review (March) 140:
Ae shot's “Stan' by,” an' twa's “Ashore,” And three's for Unco Urgent.
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 142:
Baillie MacMorin ... was a pompous man who took his position unco seriously and was determined that a spineless academic like Hercules Rollock would see how to treat thrawn schoolboys.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 50:
Awa he lowpit wi a skellum yelp
and the laist I saw wis the bauld pow ootsheenin
the sun itsel. I doot yon's gien him a skelp,
whuppt harns wud or they're spinnin like a peerie.
He wadna listen,
and in the auld sic a tirrie-mirrie's unco eerie.
Abd. 1991 Douglas Kynoch in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 86:
Melpomene was mumpin
An her een were rubbit red.
She lookit unco dowie,
As gin somebody was deid.
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 18:
Aiblins ye'll try a canny keek oot the pane
Dichtin the gless wi yer thoum
A'thing unco quaet - deil's wark doon the wynd
Abd. 1998 Sheena Blackhall The Bonsai Grower 48:
"Clung - clung - clung," it knelled, cryin the faithfu, the feart, the respeckable, the genteel, an aa the unco-guid oot frae their hames, like a preen whillyin buckies ooto their shells.
Sc. 2000 Herald 15 Mar 18:
For the unco guid Mr Souter has attacked Mr Blair and his "Islington morality". The millionaire recommended his own brand of "family values".
Sc. 2002 Scotland on Sunday 20 Oct 2:
That helps explain why he was for many years a member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party - a self-selecting assembly of the "unco guid" if ever there was one.
Sc. 2003 Express 6 Nov 13:
Are we allowed to ask which is the more useful social activity: pastoral abstinence or matrimonial nookie?
While pondering that one, the unco guid might address some other obvious questions.
Sc. 2004 The People 8 Aug 8:
There have been one or two smug looks from some folk at the top level of Scottish football whenever the FA's problems down south are mentioned.
Maybe the unco guid wouldn't be so pleased with themselves if they reflected on this possibility.

2. Strangely, peculiarly. Rare. Phr. to tak unco wi, to feel peculiar at the sight of, to have a ‘turn' because of, ‘come over queer' at.Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin iv.:
D'ye no tak' unco wi' that wean's look?
Kcd. 1933 L. G. Gibbon Cloud Howe 104:
He'd preached so unco, a Sunday back, that old Hairy Hogg was descended from monkeys.

III. n. 1. Gen. in pl.: (1) a strange or unusual thing; a rarity, novelty, curiosity (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 454; e.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh. (uncans), ne.Sc. 1973). Also in n.Eng. dial. Rarely of a person.Ags. 1820 Montrose Chron. (29 Sept.) 367:
That's a' the uncos onybody can see.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xvii.:
He lifting his two hands into a posture of admiration, cried as if he had seen an unco.
Edb. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 107:
A brass-banded box filled wi' uncas an' braws.
Bnff. 1860 Banffshire Jnl. (24 April) 3:
She tauld aboot uncos were deen in her day.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 60:
The Blair Museum, where a' kinds of uncos from hereaboot and farawa are to be seen.
Dmf. 1894 R. Reid Poems 47:
Ye'd open yer een, like a gled's tae the mune, Gin he kent a' the uncos its offspring hae dune.
Ags. 1924 A. Gray Any Man's Life 52:
God has made a heap o' uncos, A' to plaise his feckless bairns.
Sc. 1926 K. Parker My Ladie Dundie xx.:
Sic an unco' of a man as yon Frenchie is past all expectation.

(2) news, an item of news, a piece of gossip (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Dmf. 1899 Country Schoolmaster (Wallace) 355; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Ayr. 1923 Wilson D. Burns 192; Sh. (uncans), ne., wm.Sc. 1973). Also in n.Eng. dial.Ayr. 1785 Burns Cotter's Sat. Night v.:
Each tells the uncos that he sees or hears.
Mry. 1828 J. Ruddiman Tales 269:
Have you, in the course of your daunderings to-day, collected any uncos?
Edb. 1839 W. McDowall Poems 215:
Were I to sit an' tell to you The uncos o' that day.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 215:
Tack an air o' the pipe, an gee's a' yir uncos.
Kcb. 1897 A. J. Armstrong Robbie Rankine at Exhibition 3:
Listen to the unco's frae the gangrel folk.
Hdg. 1908 J. Lumsden Th' Loudons 246:
Some twa-three uncos, sour or sweet, That shid be kent.
Sh. 1948 New Shetlander (Oct.-Nov.) 21:
Whit unkans wi dee da day, lass?

2. A stranger, foreigner (wm.Sc. 1825 Jam.). Used coll., the world outside one's own family, the big wide world, strangers. Cf. Fremd.Sc. 1787 in Burns's Works (Chambers 1896) II. 196:
She gave, as her first toast after dinner, Awa' Uncos, or, Away with the strangers.
Ayr. 1833 Galt Howdie, etc. (1923) 191:
Skipping like a mawkin among a crowd of uncas.
Gsw. 1863 J. Young Ingle Nook 135:
Tho' in bairnhood to the Unco sent.

3. Wonder, excitement, in phr. a state o' unco, a state of amazement and hubbub.Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize II. xxxi.:
Gang na' to the toun, for a' yon'er's in a state o' unco wi' the news o' what's being doing the day at Cartsdyke.

[O.Sc. uncow, 1500, uncolike, strangely, 1636, unconess, 1635, Mid.Eng. unkow, strange, unfamiliar, reduced forms of uncouth, O.E. uncūþ, unknown (cf. Mou, mouth, Quo, quoth). The I.Sc. forms are influenced by or conflated with Norw. dial. ukjend, strange, Icel., Faer. ókunnur, O.N. úkunnr, unknown, strange.]

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"Unco adj., adv., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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